Voting for lunatics and crooks

Today I helped Mum and Dad make their postal vote in the QLD election. I was horrified that of the 6 candidates, 3 are anti-science morons and one is a right-wing liar who is probably also anti-science. And the way Labor have been acting lately I'm a little suspicious of the Labor candidate. This is what we get when absolutely no qualifications are needed to become a politician.

We really need entrance exams for any person entering politics. They should have a broad and deep understanding of the sciences, and excellent comprehension of technology and history. Also, people in positions of power and influence should have worse repercussions for lying and misleading the Australian people, and criminal behavior because of the immense damage they can wreak. Clive Palmer should be in prison for at least the next 20 years, most of the LNP should be stripped of their positions and government pensions and their ill-gotten fortunes, and many in Labor should too. The One Nation idiots and all the other anti-science parties and independents should be unceremoniously dumped from politics. Only those who recognise reality should be allowed to have any power at all. Delusional nutjobs should not even get to square one.

One thing I found deeply disturbing about the voting was that we have to vote for people we definitely DON'T want anywhere near power. We have to number every one of the 6 boxes. That means if my first 2 choices fail to get enough votes to be elected, I'm forced to vote for scumbags or idiots! [sigh] At least it's better than USA's nightmarish first-past-the-post system. (Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Tinkering with Puppy on a UEFI laptop

Well, last night was definitely NOT fun, though it certainly was interesting. I spent almost 6 hours trying to resurrect my computer. The kind of Linux I use is Puppy Linux, which has a number of aspects that I like over other kinds of Linux. One being that it can be run from external media (CD, USB, etc.), or can be installed on the internal hard drive in the more common way. When booting from CD the user can choose to save their settings and work in a savefile or a special directory (called a frugal install).

When I bought this very cheap laptop I disabled the UEFI booting system and deleted MSWindows from the machine, then booted it from CD, intending to do a full install at some time in the future. I had come to feel there must be a way to do a frugal install that boots entirely from the hard drive. Last night I decided to bite the bullet and work out a way to do it.

After a lot of reading on the topic I gave it a shot... and lost my system. I could still boot from the CD, and I could see all my files were there, I just couldn't persuade my computer to boot up with all my settings and software. [sigh]

As I say, it took me many hours, but I finally have my system back, however I'm still booting from CD. I'll do more reading soon, probably tonight, and try again. I'll likely keep trying until I succeed. It is a bit scary though. :) (Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Curved space

It's 3:30am and my mind keeps ticking over the same annoying thing. I keep trying to think of some way to see gravity as curved space without it collapsing into contradictions. I can see the attraction of the idea. It almost looks like you can eliminate gravity as a force and just see it as geometry. Also, I'm very aware of the fact that a lot of very smart people who I respect think that this is how gravity works. Unfortunately I know that a lot of very smart people believed in planetary epicycles too.

My only solution to the problem is to genuinely understand it. However, no matter how I try a couple of basic problems always remain.

If space is curved, then an object without force acting on it will orbit another because its path is said to be a straight line that has been bent by the nearby mass. However if I momentarily push that object along its existing path so that it moves faster, then it will no longer continue the same path. It is obvious why it moves to a different path, but it is not explainable if the object was already following what was a straight path in curved space. It requires the person to believe two contradictory things at once: that space is both curved and flat at the same time. When an object travels passively through space, the curved path is a straight line bent by curved space, but add speed to that object and we now recalculate its path using flat space, but somehow still, at the same time, think space is curved.

When thinking of gravity as curved space people tend to use Einstein's weights on a rubber membrane metaphor. It is a very attractive model. It uses gravity pulling objects down on the membrane distorting it, to model how space is distorted, but in doing this gravity is being used to explain gravity. You can't do that. It is like the circular arguments of religion: god exists because of a book that says he does, and the book is true because it's god's book. It doesn't make sense.

If you hold a ball above the ground then release it, it suddenly moves. This seems to introduce a force acting on the ball. When considering space as distorted, you think of the membrane representing space as angled, so the ball rolls down the incline to the larger mass, Earth. But you haven't eliminated gravity and explained it as geometry. You've replaced the simple force of gravity with geometry distorted in some unexplained way, plus some hitherto unexplained force in order to explain how things are pushed against that geometry. It doesn't simplify gravity; it complicates it.

If anybody understands how I am wrong in all this, please, I beg of you, tell me how. I would be very happy and relieved to be shown how I am wrong. (Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Galatea - amazing interactive fiction

My favorite work of Interactive Fiction (IF) is "Galatea" by the incredibly talented author Emily Short.

So, what is IF? You have probably heard of Choose Your Own Adventure stories, where you are able to make choices at various points in a story and it branches depending on what you decide. They are often called "text adventures".

IF lets you type in what you want to do and the program updates your situation. Most use pure text; some use pictures and text; some use animated images. (I always wanted to write stories that play out interactively inside virtual worlds -- I call it VRFiction. There have been some brilliant such works, such as "The Last of Us" and "The Last of Us Part 2"). But in spite of all the potential for graphics, plain old text IF is still often the most complex.

Galatea has around 30 verbs, but more than 150 nouns. You can type in "help" (without the quote marks) to get hints, such as some words the program will respond to.

Most IF has some kind of quest, or story, or puzzle that you are supposed to solve, but Galatea is unusual in that it is a character study which can go hundreds of different ways, depending on what you do or say.

Expect to be frustrated at first, but it can become quite addictive to play over and over again, making different choices and getting different outcomes.

You can download Galatea as a file to be run on your computer, or you can play it online:

If you want the downloadable file so you can play it offline, you can get it at:
You will need a reader program. I recommend Gargoyle, which can read many Interactive Fiction formats. (Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Getting close to the end of my current novel

I've been writing my latest novel, Breathe, for too many years. I got the idea for it back in 2015, while I was writing my short novel, Shirlocke, but it really took me a year or more to get started. The story seemed fairly straightforward, but it turned out to require a lot more research than I expected... so, combined with my usual distracted and procrastinating nature, here we are 4 years later and I'm finally approaching the end. It will be my biggest novel yet. It's set here in Australia, and tells an uplifting story of a lesbian couple who survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

Here is the cover I created:

I know it's odd to be talking about this before I've actually finished, but I'm prompted by the exciting feeling that it is finally, after all this time, approaching completion. One of the first things I knew, when I originally came up with the story idea, was how I wanted it to end, but it bothered me that my ending might be too unsatisfying. Well, yesterday I realised how to tie the whole thing up in a satisfying way, while leaving it open and still being able to use my original ending. Nice!

I really hope after all this time this book is not a huge pile of steaming crap. It worries me when I think of all those books and movies where people have spent an enormous amount of time, devoting tremendous effort, resources, and money to creating something they think is great, but which can be genuinely awful. Somehow creators are often blind to the faults of their creations. I honestly don't know whether my works are good or terrible. (Given the lack of feedback, I fear it may be the latter.) However, given that the task I've set myself is to become a better writer by writing at least 12 novels, this one will put me just over the halfway mark. It is another big step on the journey.

That journey needs to speed up, because I fear that I'm likely to inherit my Mum's susceptibility to Alzheimer's. She has it and both her sisters died of it. I'm next in line. If I'm to complete my task I'd better get a hurry on... especially since I also want to start narrating my stories and illustrate some, and create an artificial intelligence similar to that in my short story Grave Words.

Too much to do; too little time.

I'd better get back to writing. (Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
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    Pryda - Star Bugs (original mix)

playing hevc videos on old mplayer that doesn't support that format

Woo hoo!!!! I just enjoyed a lovely bit of Linux magic. My favorite Linux is a bit old, but I have it working just how I like, with a lot of programs installed and a lot of things I've set up exactly how it suits me.

Unfortunately time moves on, and I was given some h265 (hevc) encoded videos recently. My favorite video player, mplayer, doesn't have a codec to play them though (at least, not this older version), so I've been converting them using ffmpeg into h264 format, which I can play. It takes about an hour to convert a video, and I end up having to store the video twice, once for each format.

Tonight an idea hit me. If I can get ffmpeg to decode the hevc video and pipe it out the standard output (stdout) to mplayer through its standard input (stdin) then maybe I can play videos directly. After experimenting for a while I found a way that actually works!!!!

ffmpeg -i "video.mkv" -f mpeg - | mplayer -cache 10240 -

-i tells ffmpeg to use the video file "video.mkv"
-f tells it to output mpeg format
- by itself tells it to output on stdout
| is the pipe character
-cache tells mplayer to use a cache (in this case a large one) to prevent seek problems
- by itself tells mplayer to take its input from stdin

Now I just need to work out how to get it to display subtitles as well. I'm so deaf these days I have to watch everything with subtitles.

Ah... I think I've just worked out how to show subtitles. Mplayer has an option that lets it take its subtitles from a separately named file. I'll give that a shot.

Yes! It works! Extracting the subtitles from the original file takes just a few seconds:

ffmpeg -i video.mkv

Then I add the -sub option and I'm good.

ffmpeg -i "video.mkv" -f mpeg - | mplayer -cache 10240 -sub -

Ta-da!!!!! :D (Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

What we should do, but are too stupid to take the hint

We've recently been slapped in the face by reality a couple of times, but seem unable to collectively realise the obvious message.

The bushfires have been getting worse every few years until last year when they were utterly catastrophic. We desperately need to fix global warming. If we don't, then this will just continue to get worse. But the instant the immediate emergency is over, people just go back to ignoring the problem.

We will drag our feet in the change from fossil fuels; we will fight against efficiency; we will let corrupt politicians subsidise ruinous energy choices and steal land and poison water supplies to do so.

In a couple of years it will be much worse, and the fires even more horrific and people will demand to know why nothing was done to avert it... then afterwards everybody will relax and continue as before... again.

This new coronavirus was a massive wakeup call. It could have been so much worse. Just two or three times the lethality, let alone ten or thirty times the lethality could have easily spelled the end of our civilisation. But by pure dumb good luck, it is only about 3% lethal.

We have the technology to let us sail through this with almost no problem at all:

  • The internet lets us buy and sell stuff, work remotely, communicate with others, educate, and entertain ourselves (often completely free) while staying isolated.

  • Virtual reality (VR) can be used to fulfill people's need for human interaction. Games have forced the advancement of VR to the point where it has become a good substitute for real, face-to-face interaction... and it continues to improve rapidly.

  • We have begun the automation of the means of production so that most industries could potentially run without humans needing to put themselves in danger. When humans do need to be involved, the use of VR technology for telepresence allows people to remain safe.

  • We have the beginnings of artificial intelligence (AI) that could enhance automation so that very few industries will need humans to go to work and put themselves and others in danger. AI can help with delivering goods, diagnosing illness, legal work, scientific research, and data collation, taking the burden off humans and removing the risk of spreading infection.

  • We have experimented with Universal Basic Income (UBI) -- usually with superb outcomes -- so we know we have the capability to ensure entire populations can stay isolated during a pandemic without starving to death or losing their homes.

But for some reason I don't understand, our "leaders" are completely paralysed... except in China and some parts of Europe... and even they continue to ignore most of the solutions.

We know what we should be doing... but we won't do it.

After this pandemic passes we will gather up the pieces of our broken economies and damaged lives, mourn our losses, then go back to doing things exactly the same way again! It is almost certain the next pandemic will be far, far worse -- and, yes, there WILL be another. Of course there will. History teaches us that certainty. We've been given the chance to learn from this one, but we won't.

We will fight against automation, AI, and UBI. We will barely use the internet and VR, except for a small number of gamers who will be disparaged by the press as being weirdos. And when the next pandemic hits we will all be sooo surprised again... but we will do nothing to fix it... again.

For an absolutely brilliant species we are goddamn borderline insane.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
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    Galen Behr vs Hydroid - Carabella (Mourad Flatters Remix)

The power, beauty, majesty and duty of reality

It seems to me, realising that a blind, unfeeling universe gets to be conscious through us, and thus able understand itself via our minds (for we are the tiny, infinitely precious, conscious bits of this vast universe), provides far greater comfort than some mythical stone-age god which threatens you with an eternal lake of fire and torture if you disobey some bizarre, often inappropriate, primitive laws.

Some religious friends have told me that their god gives them purpose and that without it they would be lost. I try to explain to them that they haven't thought it through completely. They don't know the mind of their god so can't know what purpose it might have (it moves in mysterious ways), so the only meaning they have is in giving up looking for one, and accepting instead broken and outdated fabrications from our primitive, superstitious past.

On the other hand, it's easy to derive genuine meaning and moral goals from the real world around us.

There are two basic forms of material in the universe: alive and non-living. Living things have a main simple purpose: to continue life.

Some living things have developed brains to help them live, and that brings another purpose on top of, and in aid of life itself: to learn.

Some intelligent creatures form social groups in order to better survive and that gives yet another purpose: to care for our fellows.

Humans are special. We have developed phenomenally oversized brains which grant us expanded purposes. We can learn about far more than just the things our survival depends upon, and in that learning we can see that all life is interwoven and that we depend upon all those around us, so we need to look after all life, not just our own. We can see beyond ourselves, and our family, and our tribe or clan, beyond our village or city, past state and national borders, even past species boundaries to realise we are all brothers and sisters -- not just all humans, but all the other mammals, even all other vertebrates, all other animals, and even all life.

The power, beauty, majesty and duty of reality far exceeds the pettiness of any parochial stone age myth.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
  • Current Music
    Melatron (Mindwave Remix) by John 00 Fleming and The Digital Blonde

a little story analogy for free speech

You're having a pleasant afternoon stroll in your neighborhood. With its tall trees, much shrubbery, plentiful birds, and lack of fences, it looks like virgin bushland, but it's actually fairly well populated suburbia, with low-built homes nestling among the trees, mostly hidden. You and most of the people who are privileged to live here are very proud that this area supports an extraordinary diversity of rare and endangered animals and plants, and is one of the few remaining strongholds of koalas in the state. Usually it is lush and green and damp because of the way the trees tend to keep everything under them moist, but we've been going through an unexpectedly long drought lately, so everything is unusually dry.

You round a corner in the path and are surprised and horrified to see a fellow standing, lighting matches and dropping them into the grasses near him. He seems fascinated with the fire and giggles each time it catches. In alarm you run forward, snatch the box of matches from him and successfully stomp out the flames.

This makes him angry, "Hey! Those are my matches! You can't take away my property. I have a right to them and to use them as I see fit."

Is he correct? Does he have the right to put everybody's lives at risk by setting alight to where you live? Fire is an incredibly powerful tool, and without it we humans probably would have died out long ago, but do we have a responsibility in its use? Does he have an unrestricted right to the matches he clearly owns?

Free speech is very important, and is an extremely powerful tool, especially in the hands of public figures, such as politicians and people in the media. Should they be allowed to ignite division and hatred among people and risk burning our diverse and peaceful society down? Or should it be a requirement of their position to be the best of us, wielding their tool of free speech responsibly?

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

a little story analogy regarding climate change denial

You're on your way to a business meeting that could make you a lot of money. Ahead is a bus and a small car parked on the side of the road before a bridge and a lot of men milling around. Several of the men frantically wave you down as you approach the bridge. Reluctantly, because you don't want to be late, you stop and ask the men what's up. They tell you the bridge ahead is dangerous and you shouldn't cross it.

You peer at the bridge and say it looks alright to you.

Another man saunters over and says to ignore them; the bridge is fine.

One of the men who warned you growls that the bridge is definitely unsafe and anyone driving across will cause its collapse and they'll fall to their death. He says you should believe them because they are bridge engineers on the way to an engineering convention. There are 97 of them in the bus, and they unanimously agree that the bridge is unsafe. He points to the guy who said it's okay and says that fellow and two others came in the small car parked behind the bus. Those three say it's safe, but they're not even engineers. One is an economist, one is a geologist, and the third doesn't seem to have any qualifications at all.

Do you risk the bridge anyway, or do you thank the engineers, and take a less direct, but safe route to your destination?

97% of scientists warn us we're causing catastrophic climate change. 3% deny this. The deniers are mostly economists, geologists, and others who are not climate scientists.

Do you choose a safe path, or risk collapse and death?

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)